What Is the Difference Between WPA & WPA2-Personal?

By Jack Gerard

Network security is an important part of keeping home or business computers safe from invasion by unauthorized users. Security is even more important when using a wireless network since users don't have to have access to a physical network connection point to gain access to the network. WPA and WPA2-Personal are two of the more commonly used wireless security protocols, though some users may wonder what the difference is between the two.

WPA

WPA stands for "Wi-Fi Protected Access" and secures the wireless network by encrypting the data that is transmitted through the network. Users wishing to access the network must have a security key specific to the network; if the correct key is not entered when attempting to connect to the network then the encryption is not decoded and the user's computer cannot access the network or its assets.

WPA2

WPA2 is a newer security protocol that was designed to correct some of the security vulnerabilities present in the original WPA. WPA2-Personal is one of two variations of the WPA2 protocol and is appropriate for use in most residential and small business settings; WPA2-Enterprise is also an option, though a specialized authentication server known as RADIUS is required on the network for WPA2-Enterprise to function properly.

Security Differences

The primary difference between WPA and WPA2-Personal are the encryption types used to secure the network. WPA uses an encryption type known as Temporal Key Integrity Protocol. WPA2-Personal can use TKIP, but because TKIP security keys are crackable using some advanced hacking tools the WPA2 protocol primarily uses an encryption type known as the Advanced Encryption Standard. AES uses a much more advanced encryption algorithm that cannot be defeated by the tools that overcome TKIP security, making it a much more secure encryption method.

Processing Power and Firmware

Because WPA2-Personal uses a more advanced encryption type, additional processing power is required to keep the network functioning at full speed. Wireless networks that use older hardware for access points and routers may suffer speed reductions when using WPA2-Personal instead of WPA, especially when several users are connected or a large amount of data is moving through the network. As WPA2-Personal is a newer standard, firmware upgrades may also be required for some hardware that previously used WPA exclusively.